MOSCOW — Four tourists traveling through Tajikistan on bicycles were killed when a car drove into them Sunday, and officials in the former Soviet republic considered an extremist plot among the possible motives for the "attack" after officers detained suspects armed with knives and guns, the country's interior minister said Monday.
Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said it was holding four people for potential involvement in "the collision and killing of foreign citizens" after a Daewoo sedan plowed into a group of seven foreign bicyclists about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Four of the cyclists died in the hit-and-run crash, according to the ministry.
Two of the victims were American, the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan said. One was Swiss, and another was from the Netherlands, foreign and Tajik officials said.
Three other cyclists, including a woman from Switzerland, were injured. Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda told reporters Monday that one of the survivors had knife wounds and police found knives and guns with some of the suspects. He described the car crash as "an attack," but said it was too soon to say if it was accidental or deliberate.
"We are considering all possibilities, including a road accident, murder and others," Rakhimzoda said. "At this point, we cannot say with confidence that a terrorist act or some other crime has been committed."
During the morning news conference in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, Rakhimzoda said one suspect had been killed. A statement posted on the Interior Ministry's web site Sunday evening said two suspects were dead. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.
The State Department issued a statement Monday condemning what it called a "senseless attack" and expressing "deepest condolences" to the families of the people killed. The department said it could not provide more information about the U.S. citizens due to "privacy concerns," but that U.S. officials were working closely with Tajik authorities.
Swiss Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Silvia Mueller said that while the circumstances of the crash were unclear, the Swiss government's travel advice for Tajikistan notes there is a risk of attacks and poor road travel conditions in the Central Asian country.
"Should it turn out to have been a terrorist act, this would be recorded in the travel advice," Mueller said.
The State Department encouraged Americans headed abroad to monitor government advisories for updated information on where it is safe to travel.